Updated: We reported last month that CBS was likely to take part in the Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) On Demand Online trial and now it’s official. CBS (NYSE: CBS) is the first broadcast network to sign on and will test a mix of current and library content in the national trial slated to start later this month.
Comcast also announced 17 more cable nets that will take part, including, as expected, those from AETN, Rainbow Media and Scripps, as well as BBC and MGM Impact: A&E, AMC, BBC America, DIY Network, Fine Living Network, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, History, IFC, MGM Impact, Sundance Channel, WE tv, plus Comcast’s E! Entertainment, The Style Network, G4 and FEARnet.
CBS already ubiquitous: Unlike recent trial additions Starz and HBO, both premium networks, CBS is already ubiquitous online, with much of its content accessible through Comcast video portal Fancast. But that access comes with various time delays or availability limitations; offering the network’s programming with authentication—a process that proves the customer is already paying for multichannel video—could bring the timing in line with broadcast air dates. Currently, most CBS shows are on a three-day delay; trial subs will have access faster.
So what does CBS gain? A splash of publicity, some data about how a small sampling of cable subscribers, and, not to be underestimated, the chance to support the country’s largest cable operator. The only broadcast net without the dual revenue stream of ad-supported cable nets, CBS needs retransmission fees even more than its competitors and Comcast has been vocal about its lack of interest in paying.
Trial, not deal: CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith told me last month that the potential for authentication to lead to more ways for CBS to get paid made the concept “very interesting”—but without linking it to the “R” word. When we talked today, he stressed (as have other programmers) that “this is a trial announcement, not a deal.”
That ubiquity, of course, doesn’t extend to Hulu, the broadband video JV that includes broadcast rivals NBC, Fox and ABC. CBS has been a high-profile Hulu holdout since it rejected the chance to be a pre-launch equity partner. For a few months, the two shared space on CBS Interactive’s TV.com until Hulu yanked its programming after the site relaunched as a video portal.
The instant temptation is to see this as an anti-Hulu move, a thumb in the eye. That’s simplistic at best. Smith has insisted all along that CBS stayed out of Hulu as an equity partner because it didn’t want to cede control over its distribution. It could make a non-exclusive distribution deal with Hulu—and should—but that’s now tied up with the fate of the agreement CBS acquired with CNET Networks and TV.com. If Comcast’s trial required exclusivity, I don’t think CBS would be on board.
It’s also tempting to see authentication or the TV Everywhere concept purely in an anti-Hulu light. Again, too simplistic—but popular.
By Staci D. Kramer